In an era when anyone can instantly “friend” another online, over 25 percent of Americans today say they have no real friends, no one they can confide in or depend on. Meanwhile, the dominant housing model in the U.S.—individuals or families living in separate homes—is increasingly unaffordable for many people.
Unitarian Universalist Community Cooperatives (UUCC) offers a solution so bold and exciting—multi-generational, cooperative housing grounded in UU values—that Forbes magazine in October awarded two young UU ministers $100,000 in its 2015 “Change the World” competition for social entrepreneurs under the age of 30.
“New technologies and data can only take us so far. No app can fully heal our hearts and our world,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, a founding leader of UUCC, who received the award with the Rev. Heather Concannon. “We are serving folks not served by our dominant housing market: elders, retirees, single parents with children, young professionals, anyone not served by the model of a house with a white picket fence. We know this won’t fix everything, but it’s a scalable [alternative].”
UUCC’s first house, the Lucy Stone Cooperative, is a multigenerational house with 13 house members ranging in ages from 12 to 70 who live together in a community of spiritual practice, sustainability, and focus on social change, Nguyen said. Its second house, the Margaret Moseley Cooperative, will open in the spring and will include several parents with children “committed to exploring what it means to raise children in community,” she said. Both houses are in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
“We experience that people yearn for ancient practices to connect with each other,” said Nguyen, “to sit around a kitchen table and have real conversations, to sing by candlelight, to be around people of many generations not just once a week but day in and out.”
UUCC is financed through loans from individuals and institutions, including congregations, which receive a return on their investment. “We are offering another way for people to live their UU values through investing,” said Concannon, who lives in the Lucy Stone House and is a minister at the UU Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, Massachusetts. Nguyen is the UUA’s leadership development associate for youth and young adults of color. Both ministers are participating in Beyond the Call, a two-year training program for “entrepreneurial ministers” developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.
Concannon and Nguyen said the Forbes competition gave them an opportunity to share UU values and the UU cooperative housing movement with the under-30 entrepreneurial community. More than 2,500 young social entrepreneurs from around the world entered the competition. Most were for-profit business models, followed by hybrid models with both donated and earned revenue. Less than one-third of the competitors offered nonprofit business models, according to Forbes.
Nguyen’s and Concannon’s team was one of six finalists in the competition, who presented their work at Forbes’ second “Under 30 Summit” in Philadelphia in October, which convened nearly 2,000 young entrepreneurs.
In contrast to the UUCC project, many of the competitors offered technology-based concepts. Concannon and Nguyen applied to the Forbes competition as a team, since UUCC emphasizes the value of shared leadership, another way in which they felt they were pushing notions about entrepreneurialism.
While the pair has been lauded, they emphasize that UUCC is the work of many people over the years, both in leadership positions and by offering financial and other support. “It takes a village to raise a village,” said Concannon.
They now are in discernment on how best to use the Forbes award. “We’re in a really exciting moment where we are having lots of rich, energizing conversations on how we want to grow and in what ways,” Nguyen said.
“Our hope is to figure out ways for this to have the most institutional impact long term,” said Concannon; for example, by focusing on leadership and development, and spreading the UUCC model. “We see the Forbes piece as a win for the cooperative movement, for affordable housing, and for our UU movement,” said Nguyen.